Harry Patch, the last veteran of the Great War trenches, was buried today. There was a moving tribute by the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion on BBC2 tonight which is worth watching. Also, Radiohead have written and released a song in honour of the man. It was premiered on Radio 4’s The Today Programme on Wednesday morning, possibly the only time that the BBC’s flagship radio news programme has ever played a piece of music in full.
It’s a beautiful piece. Jonny Greenwood’s orchestration is stunning. It begins with a rolling, almost pastoral string motif that repeats for two minutes before rising to a false crescendo which fades into a dark introspection, after which the main theme re-emerges, re-energised. Thom Yorke’s vocals are cracked and vulnerable – sad but without sentimentality. Indeed there is an underlying bitterness of lessons never learned. It’s a little difficult to make out all the words, which is a bit of a shame, but here they are:
I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn
The song is available from the Radiohead Waste website for just a pound – all proceeds going to the British Legion. It’s a fitting tribute, not just to Harry, but to all of them, regardless of nationality.